Church sells stake in Vedanta following Ecostorm exposé


An-overview-of-the-Vedanta-refinery-in-Lanjigarh-Orrisa.-300x225The Church of England has sold major holdings in the controversial British-owned mining company Vedanta Resources plc after admitting it has no confidence that the company is respecting the humans rights of local communities in areas of operation.

An Ecostorm investigation for The Ecologist magazine and The Independent newspaper last year revealed that the Church was among a host of well-known British companies and institutions who hold shares in the company. Halifax Pension Fund, Lloyds TSB Group Pension Fund, Norwich Union Life and Pensions Ltd and Prudential Managed Pension Fund, Land Rover Pension Trustees Ltd and Unilever Pension Fund were among those exposed as beneficial shareholders in the controversial mining conglomerate.

A number of local and regional authorities – including Suffolk County Council, Havering Borough Council and Hertfordshire County Council – also have investments and all are now under pressure to sell their holdings too.

Vedanta has been criticised by NGOs and the UK Government for failing to properly consult tribal populations about plans for a bauxite mine in a remote part of eastern India. The mine would devastate a mountain that is considered sacred by the indigenous population.

The Church had sent a delegation to meet officials from the company in November 2009 to see for themselves the company’s on-going mining activities. However, after meeting senior management they had no confidence the company would improve its ethical behavior.

‘I am a passionate advocate for engagement with companies when we have ethical concerns,’ said John Reynolds, chairman of the Church’s Ethical Investment Advisory Group (EIAG). ‘However, after six months of engagement, we are not satisfied that Vedanta has shown, or is likely in future to show, the level of respect for human rights and local communities that we expect of companies in whom the Church investing bodies hold shares,’ he said.

Companies under fire for marketing controversial biofuel as “ethical and green”


blusky-300x210-1UK-based investment companies are marketing a controversial biofuel crop as “highly ethical and green” despite it being linked to conflicts over land, food security and growing hunger in developing countries, an Ecostorm investigation for The Ecologist magazine and The Independent has revealed.

The brokers have been criticised by environmental and anti-poverty campaigners for selling investments in jatropha because of increasing concerns over the crops’ impact on poor communities.

Jatropha, a bushy shrub which grows in Africa, Latin America and south-east Asia, is being touted as a “miracle” biofuel because the plants’ seeds contain a potentially valuable, non-edible, vegetable oil that can be used for biodiesel.

The investment companies are selling jatropha as the new “green oil” and claim it has the potential to alleviate poverty and improve livelihoods in developing countries. They also maintain jatropha oil offers a viable alternative to fossil fuels. One of the plants’ biggest benefits, the companies claim, is that it thrives on low grade, marginal land, and in semi-arid areas with poor soils, thus not competing with food production.

But, according to campaigners, the supposed benefits of jatropha are largely unproven, and the experiences of many farmers encouraged to plant the crop do not tally with the claims of the biofuel industry. Yields have fallen short of predictions, claim farmers, and agricultural land has been destroyed or converted for jatropha, threatening food security, impacting on livelihoods and displacing local communities. Promised incomes have failed to materialise, it is claimed, because of poor demand for jatropha seeds.

A new report out today by Action Aid links the expansion of industrial biofuels, derived from crops including jatropha, palm oil, soya and sugar cane, to rising food prices and increasing global hunger. The group states that growing demand for crops for fuel is putting them in competition with those grown for food, driving food prices higher and affecting what and how much people eat in the developing world.

To read the full Ecologist investigation see: http://www.theecologist.org/trial_investigations/414659/jatropha_biofuels_uk_investors_sell_controversial_crop_as_green.html

To read The Independent’s coverage, see: http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/food-and-drink/news/seeds-of-discontent-the-miracle-crop-that-has-failed-to-deliver-1899530.html

To read ActionAid’s report see: http://www.actionaid.org.uk/doc_lib/meals_per_gallon_final.pdf”

Footage exposes illegal practices on EU pig farms


A Compassion in World Farming undercover investigation carried out by Ecostorm – together with a report by the European Food Safety Authority – has suggested that many of the 250 million pigs reared each year in the European Union are being farmed in illegal conditions.

A new film, launched in Brussels, presented graphic footage showing farmers’ apparent failure to follow the law and governments’ failure to enforce it. During an 18-month undercover investigation, starting in 2008, Compassion and Ecostorm visited 74 pig farms in six EU Member States: the UK, Denmark, Hungary, Germany, Spain and the Netherlands.

The vast majority of the pigs investigators saw had their tails docked (cut off) and most had no straw or other manipulable materials provided. EU law says clearly that pigs should not be routinely tail-docked and that enrichment materials must be provided.

The investigation uncovered tail-docked pigs living on barren concrete floors in conditions of utter deprivation that are totally unsuitable for these highly active, intelligent animals. Compassion in World Farming have filed formal complaints to the European Commission against several of these countries.

Top restaurant in veal controversy


Ecostorm, working with Compassion in World Farming, recently carried out investigations across the UK and Holland to reveal where some of the country’s top hotels and restaurants source their veal from – and established that the double Michelin-starred Espelette restaurant at The Connaught hotel was offering controversial Dutch veal while waiters claimed the meat was British. Dutch veal is controversial as it frequently involves rearing techniques described by campaigners as “cruel and unnecessary” and outlawed in the UK.

EFU climate film up for award


EFU film Melting Point – the new frontline in eco-activism has been invited for nomination in the ‘Reel Change’ award strand of the Human Rights Arts & Film Festival taking place in April and May 2010. The strand is seeking films under 15 minutes which address the human impacts of climate change. Melting Point sparked controversy upon its release with its investigation into claims of espionage, legal threats, violence and news manipulation by climate campaigners in the run up to the historic Kingsnorth power station protest.

Film sparks outrage over Halal slaughter


Working in conjunction with GAIA, Ecostorm has undertaken an ambitious investigation revealing the bloody and brutal conditions of halal abattoirs in Belgium. Operating undercover, Ecostorm investigations found appalling conditions and documented graphic cruelty in over nine slaughterhouses.

The footage gathered includes mass slaughter of sheep, un-stunned killing of baby goats and prolonged deaths of cattle in tailor made ‘bleeding boxes’ across the country. The findings of the investigation have received extensive coverage on the front pages of national papers and released on every major news channel across Belgium; provoking unprecedented outrage amongst consumers and politicians alike.

A parliamentary enquiry has been set up to examine the findings and change legislation, and the animal minister responsible for animal welfare stated publicly that she had seen the footage and that ‘ something needs to be done’.

Read coverage from VTM,Vilt, and Nieuwsblad Belgian newspapers.

New film documents how coastal privatisation threatens Indonesian communities


Working in conjunction with the Forest Peoples Programme and KIARA in Jakarta, Ecostorm has carried out an investigation in Sumatra that lifts the lid on plans to privatise the entire length of Indonesia’s 80,000km coastline. If the coastal privatization law known as HP-3 is ratified, vast coastal concessions will be granted to industrial prawn farms, mining interests and commercial tourism projects. The resulting film produced by the Ecologist Film Unit – Selling the Seas – reveals the enormous harm that this law will cause to the tens of thousands of people who live and depend on the coastline for their survival.

Killing Fields – how Paraguay’s soya trade leads to poisoning and violence


Much of the cheap meat and dairy produce sold in supermarkets across Europe is arriving as a result of serious human rights abuses and environmental damage in one of Latin America’s most impoverished countries, a powerful new investigation produced by the Ecologist Film Unit – the production company jointly owned by Ecostorm and The Ecologist magazine – has found.

The film, launched in conjunction with Friends of the Earth and Food and Water Watch, discovered that in Paraguay vast plantations of soy, principally grown for use in intensively-farmed animal feed, are responsible for a catalogue of social and ecological problems, including the forced eviction of rural communities, landlessness, poverty, excessive use of pesticides, deforestation and rising food insecurity.

The ten minute film, Killing Fields: the battle to feed factory farms – documents the experiences of some of those caught up in Paraguay’s growing conflict over soy farming and reveals, for the first time, how intensive animal farming across the EU, including the UK, is fuelling the problem.

Campaigners are using the film to highlight the ‘unsustainable’ nature of modern food production, and to spearhead efforts to raise awareness of the largely hidden cost of the factory farming systems supplying much of Europe’s cheap meat and dairy produce.

The moves come as international concern over global food insecurity grows, and amid fresh warnings that millions of the world’s poorest people face acute hunger in the coming months and years because of the twin threats of climate change – impacting farming in large parts of the developing world – and the ongoing credit crunch which has seen global food aid budgets slashed.

The full article is also available at The Ecologist.

UK companies linked to devastating Indian mine


An-overview-of-the-Vedanta-refinery-in-Lanjigarh-Orrisa.-300x225An investigation by Ecostorm for The Ecologist magazine and The Independent newspaper has revealed how leading banks, insurance providers, car manufacturers and brewery chains – amongst others – have pension funds or similar schemes invested in a company responsible for a controversial mine in Orissa which threatens, according to campaigners, to devastate a vital forest ecosystem and the homes of an unique tribal community.

Church organisations, charities and local authorities were also revealed as being shareholders in Vedanta Resources, a UK-registered, FTSE-100 listed company. Many of the investments are managed by third party fund managers.

Vedanta subsidiary Sterlite Industries Ltd wants to begin mining for bauxite – a raw form of aluminium – in the north western part of the Niyamgiri hills, in India’s Orissa state. The scheme was given the final go-ahead by the Indian Supreme Court after a protracted legal battle.

Government reports and research compiled by campaign groups has warned that the mining operation, which will see the extraction of millions of tons of bauxite from some 600 hectares of forest, will result in ecological degradation that could threaten the livelihoods of tribal people who rely on the land for sustaining their traditional way of life.

A nearby bauxite refinery, already constructed by another Vedanta subsidiary, Vedanta Alumina Ltd, to process bauxite from the proposed mine, has been blamed by local people for causing health problems, damaging crops and killing livestock. The refinery currently handles bauxite brought in from other regions and is expected to be expanded.

Campaigners claim several villages were razed to make way for construction of the Lanjigarh refinery, with up to 100 indigenous families evicted from their land and relocated to ‘rehabilitation colonies’ where locals claim they feel as though they are living ‘in a jail’ with little access to land for farming.

UPDATE: The Church of England has recently suspended its investments in Vedanta, following lobbying by campaign groups and publicity around the issue.

The Ecologist article and The Independant article.

Cruelty of Namibian seal hunt exposed


The-Namibian-seal-hunt-has-not-been-well-documented-until-now-1Secret footage obtained by Ecostorm in Namibia has revealed – for the first time – the brutal reality of the Namibian seal hunt and followed an unprovoked attack on investigators Jim Wickens and Bart Smithers.

The dramatic film shows seals being killed by hunters during a hunt at the Cape Cross Reserve in Namibia and hunters armed with clubs running towards the Ecostorm team. The journalists, who were working on assignment with Dutch lobby group Bont voor Dieren were violently attacked by seal hunters before being detained by police.

The pair were subsequently held by the Namibian authorities before being freed after agreeing to pay a fine for “entering a protected marine area without a permit.” The incident has been reported around the world and shone a spotlight on the little known Namibian seal hunt.

Namibia’s seals number about 800,000 and more than 90,000 seals will be clubbed to death during this year’s sealing season, which started in early July. The hunt takes place secretly to avoid the glare of publicity – and to avoid upsetting tourists. Namibia is a popular tourist destination, particular for Dutch and German nationals.

Dutch charity Bont voor Dieren is part of the World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA) global Member Society.

 

Slaughtering the Amazon – global shoe brands in the spotlight over forest destruction


Cattle-ranching-in-Brazil-is-a-major-drive-of-deforestation-300x185As part of a three year Greenpeace investigation ‘Slaughtering the Amazon’, examining the market links of beef and leather from cattle grazing on illegally deforested lands in the Amazon, Ecostorm helped to expose a vital link between high street trainers and the destruction of this unique forest.

Working undercover, an Ecostorm team infiltrated the tanneries and shoe factories that produce Nike, Reebok, Adidas and other international shoe brands in South East Asia. During this investigation Ecostorm was able to prove that much of the leather used in these high street brands is sourced from slaughterhouses and processing plants in Brazil, that in turn source cattle from illegal ranches, one of the key drivers responsible for deforestation in the heart of the Amazon.
UPDATE: As a direct result of the Greenpeace investigation, all the major suppliers and shoe brands have carried out exhaustive surveys of their suppliers, and vowed to discontinue sourcing leather from the Amazon.

More from The Guardian on the Amazon deforestation.

 

Revealed: UK companies at centre of global trade in seal skins


77337An investigation by Ecostorm has discovered that London is at the hub of an international trade in controversial Canadian seal skins – the subject of this week’s EU vote to outlaw their sale across Europe.

Campaigners have long suspected that UK-based dealers are playing a central role in the international trade of seal skins, but little has been known about the companies or the trade routes.

Posing as fur buyers, Ecostorm reporters met with London-based fur companies selling the seal skins and mapped out the complex trail of skins from Canada to the Far East. Skins were offered in London for between $8 and $22, depending on their quality.

Ecostorm discovered that the London-based fur dealers are buying the skins in from Canada and selling them on to Scandinavia and Europe, from where they are dispatched to China to be turned into fashion garments ranging from coats to handbags! The European Union is an important transhipment point for seal pelt exports headed to markets in Russia and China.

Although Russia and China are the biggest markets for sealskin garments and accessories, items containing sealskin have been found on sale in the European Union, including the UK. Leading fashion houses, including Prada, Versace and Gucci have in recent years been criticised by lobby groups, including the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) and the Humane Society of the United States for using Canadian sealskins in the manufacture of their clothing.

Pat Thomas, Editor of the Ecologist magazine, which commissioned the investigation, today said: “Although there was no suggestion of illegality or wrongdoing by the British companies involved in the sealskin trade, it shows that this barbaric trade is going on right under our noses, even though the British Government opposes the seal huntl. It will add further fuel to a highly emotive issue and undoubtedly shock the British public who in the majority are against this annual seal massacre on the ice flows of the Gulf of St Lawrence, Newfoundland, Labrador and the gulf portion of Quebec,”

The European Parliament this week voted to ban imports of seal products, including fur coats and even omega-3 pills, trying to force Canada to end the annual seal hunt that animal rights groups call barbaric. The EU assembly overwhelmingly endorsed a bill that said commercial seal hunting, notably in Canada, is “inherently inhumane.” The bill still needs the backing of EU governments, but officials called that a formality since national envoys had already endorsed the bill.

Canada’s East Coast seal hunt is the largest of its kind in the world, killing an average of 300,000 harp seals annually. Canada exported around $5.5 million U.S. dollars worth of seal products such as pelts, meat, and oils to the EU in 2006.

To read the investigation see www.theecologist.org
For more information see www.ifaw.org

Tibet’s environment under threat as crackdown continues


Thirteen months ago the world watched in horror as the Chinese authorities launched a brutal crackdown on Tibetan dissidents protesting against the occupation of their country. At least 120 were killed when soldiers opened fire on protests in the capital Lhasa and elsewhere. Thousands were injured or arrested. The Olympic Games may have briefly focussed our attention on the plight of Tibet – despite the best efforts of the Chinese – but the media’s gaze, predictably, has long since shifted. Tibet is no longer on our screens.

But for those left behind, the legacy remains. As many as six thousand Tibetans were rounded up during the uprising, the fate of almost a thousand remains unknown. Among those detained were activists, film-makers and outspoken religious leaders. Tibet is one of the most dangerous places in the world for any sort of dissent.

Since Chinese tanks rolled into Tibet in 1950, freedom of speech, information, religion and assembly have all been controversially curtailed, and Tibetan customs, culture and language steadily marginalised – largely due to Beijing encouraging millions of ethnic Chinese to settle in the area.

Less well known, Tibet’s environment has also suffered. Decades of Chinese-sanctioned logging have led to deforestation on a massive scale, with less than half of the country’s forests remaining. In some areas more than 80% of the original forest has been decimated, resulting in soil erosion and flooding, in turn causing landslides and damaging farmland.

Ill-planned industrial development, including hydro-electric projects and dams, have further degraded land and water supplies – in one controversial case, construction of a power station at Ymdrok Tso lake south of Lhasa was blamed for drying up fresh water supplies, forcing local people to drink from the lake and resulting in a host of negative health impacts.

Intensive agricultural practices have also taken their toll – overgrazing has contributed to desertification, and the use of pesticides and insecticides has been linked to land degradation and loss of important plant species.

Tibet is home to rare and enigmatic species such as the lynx, snow leopard, black bear, gazelle, wild yak, Tibetan antelope and giant panda, but trophy hunting previously encouraged by the Chinese has been blamed for seriously depleting wildlife populations.

The biggest threat currently facing Tibet’s environment are large scale mining operations – for chromium, salt, coal, oil, gold, uranium, copper and zinc, amongst others. Mining is linked to a host of serious environmental and social ills yet China is embarking on an unprecedented programme of mineral extraction.

In some cases entire communities face being uprooted to make way for mines and other industrial developments. Tibetan nomads – traditional custodians of Tibetan wilderness – are among those who’ve frequently found themselves in the way. Since 2000, some 900,000 have been forcibly relocated – unsurprisingly they are now some of the regime’s most vocal opponents.

Runggye Adak, a 55 year-old father of eleven from eastern Tibet, was condemned to eight years in prison in November 2007 after publicly calling for the return of the Dalai Lama at a horse racing festival. His nephew, Adak Lopoe – along with two other men – was also detained following the dissenting speech and jailed for ten years for “colluding with foreign separatist forces to split the country and distributing political pamphlets.” Lopoe, a senior monk at Lithang monastery, is a well known critic of logging, deforestation and wildlife hunting, and a champion for education.

Monks arrested following last year’s uprising have testified that scores of nomads were among those crammed into notorious Chinese detention centres, rounded up for protesting against the increasing encroachment of their lands and environment. Months afterwards, many are still believed to be detained.

Film-makers attempting to report the reality of life inside Tibet have faced a similar fate. Dhondup Wangchen – a Tibetan nomad – and colleague Jigme Gyatso were arrested in March 2008 for producing a documentary enabling ordinary Tibetans to express views on the Olympics and Chinese rule. Gyatso, recently released “on probation”, has testified he was beaten continuously whilst in detention, hung by his feet for hours at a time, and tied to an interrogation chair for lengthy periods.

Wangchen continues to be detained, his whereabouts remain unknown. Sources have indicated he too has been tortured – like so many others. The London-based Free Tibet pressure group recently published a shocking dossier alleging the widespread use of torture against dissident Tibetan prisoners. Many of those tortured have been seriously injured, others have died.

Despite similar conclusions being drawn by the UN, the world seems happy to ignore such abuses.
The British Government – who hosted the Chinese premier Wen Jiabao in February – has been strangely muted over the plight of Tibet. A recent Government policy document on China skirted more difficult issues raised by the use of torture, and stopped far short of calling for an end to the arrest and detention without trial of political prisoners. Britain, it appears, is happy for a simple ‘reduction’ in such detentions.

Sanctions – such as those imposed on Burma – may not be an option given China’s growing influence and economic standing, but the international community has a duty to put the Tibetan issue at the very heart of its dealings with the Asian superpower. As Free Tibet point out, China is now the “workshop of the world” and desperately needs healthy relations and strong economies in order to thrive. That need provides the outside world with unique leverage that should – and must – be capitalised on.

We urgently need to lobby those in positions of influence – including ministers, the media and relevant businesses – to take up the Tibetan’s cause and support the charities and campaigns pressing for change. The ongoing silence and “turn the other way” attitude is allowing rampant human rights abuses to continue largely unchallenged, and risks the further decimation of Tibet’s natural resources and unique environment.

Visit www.freetibet.org to find out how you can support the people and environment of Tibet.

A version of this report first appeared in The Ecologist magazine www.theecologist.org

Documentary exposes link between intensive pig industry and new type of MRSA


An Ecostorm-produced documentary, commissioned by the Soil Association and Compassion in World Farming, exposes the rise of a new strain of MRSA in pigs, and its link to the overuse of antibiotics on intensive farms.

‘Sick as a pig’ was filmed in the Netherlands, one of the countries most seriously affected by this farm-animal MRSA. It finds that 40% of Dutch pigs and up to 50% of Dutch pig farmers are now carrying the new strain, which is also spreading to the wider population. Although this type of MRSA was first detected in humans in the Netherlands as recently as 2003, it now causes almost one in three cases of MRSA treated in Dutch hospitals.

It is not yet known whether any British pigs are affected by the new strain of MRSA (called ST398) since the results of testing, which was required by the EU and carried out in 2008, have not been made public.

Several countries have already published the results of their own tests revealing significant levels of MRSA in national pig herds. The European Food Safety Authority has said that, ‘It seems likely that MRSA ST398 is widespread in the food animal population, most likely in all Member States with intensive animal production’.

Dutch scientists and Government officials blame the widespread use of antibiotics in intensive pig farming for the rise and rapid spread of farm-animal MRSA. The Soil Association has calculated that about 64% of all farm antibiotic use in the UK is in pig production.

Approximately 60% of the pig meat eaten in the UK comes from the Netherlands and other countries which have MRSA in their pig herds. A Dutch Government study has found that about 10% of Dutch pork is contaminated with MRSA, yet the UK has introduced no controls on imports, and the Food Standards Agency has refused to undertake any testing of meat for MRSA.

Richard Young, Soil Association policy adviser said, “The British Government has buried its head in the sand and is wasting a critical opportunity to prevent farm-animal MRSA getting a hold in the UK. Decisive action could reduce risks to human health, costs to the NHS and avoid another potentially devastating food-safety crisis.

This new type of MRSA is spreading like wildfire across Europe, and we know it is transferring from farm animals to humans – with serious health impacts. The Government has to wake up and start looking after the interests of ordinary people and not just the intensive livestock industry and international drug companies.

It is simply not acceptable to allow methods of food production which take away one of the biggest advances in medical science – our ability to treat and cure serious infections in the human population with antibiotics. We are sitting on a time-bomb here, and while most people have been kept in the dark about the issue, the Government’s inaction will cost them dear for many years to come.”

John Callaghan, director of programmes at Compassion in World Farming said, “MRSA is yet another potential example of how harmful factory farming is for animals and people. Pigs reared intensively often live in stressful conditions, subject to painful mutilations, unable to express their natural behaviour and prone to diseases. Factory farms where animals are unnaturally crowded and stressed, even with careful management, are always likely to need drugs to keep infections at bay.

Cheap pork has nasty implications for the welfare of animals and for human health. We should eat less, but better meat- coming from animals that have lived a happy and healthy life.”

For further information www.soilassociation.org
and www.ciwf.org

‘Sick as a pig’ can be viewed online at http://www.theecologist.org/etv
and at http://www.green.tv/ecologist_sick_as_a_pig1

Violence and intimidation faces those challenging the “timber barons”


Thumb-pix-for-forests-news-story-March-09Virtually everything we buy, whether it’s food or clothing or household appliances or even holidays, comes with an ecological price tag attached. But there are other, unreported, costs attached to many of these same purchases: across the globe a growing number of brave and pioneering activists and journalists face danger and persecution – including violence, intimidation, harassment, censorship and even murder – as they tackle the social and environmental impacts of modern consumerism.

Whether it’s trade union activists in Colombia, fair trade advocates in West Africa, or anti-mining campaigners in West Papua, the risks are acute, and the stakes are high. Those tackling illegal logging and the illicit trade in timber face particular dangers. This logging costs the global economy US$10-15 billion a year, and there are clear links between deforestation and global warming, as well as serious social justice and human rights abuses connected to the trade.

Shockingly however, the international community has been slow to recognise the problem, with resources allocated to fighting the trade hardly registering compared to those allocated to fighting the illicit trades in drugs or arms – despite the grave consequences.

So much of the struggle is being fought – in true David and Goliath style – between a small but brave band of activists and campaigning journalists and the criminal rackets profiting from the plunder of the world’s most biologically important rainforests. Those squaring up to these timber barons are paying a heavy price.

In the Philippines, last November, Aristeo Padrigao Monday, a 55 year old journalist, had his face blown off in front of his seven year old daughter in Gingoog City after investigating illegal logging for radio station dxRS Radyo Natin and the Mindanao Monitor Today. He’d been highly vocal about the involvement of local politicians. Just months before, in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, journalist Khim Sambo (and his son) were both gunned down in the street; Sambo, a reporter with opposition newspaper Moneakseka Khmer, frequently wrote about illegal logging, including the involvement of powerful government figures.

The two are just the latest in a long line of journalists and campaigners to be killed, injured or persecuted whilst tackling logging. In Indonesia the problem has become so acute that campaigners created a dedicated security network and emergency ‘helpline’ for those running into trouble. The move followed shocking cases such as that of Arbi Kusno.

The tireless exposer of the illicit timber trade was attacked by a mob armed with spears, machetes and hydrochloric acid and believed to be working for timber smugglers. Repeatedly stabbed and slashed, one of Kusno’s hands was severed, as was one of his ears. His injuries were so severe he was assumed dead and carted off to the morgue – only to regain consciousness en-route.

In Mexico in 2007, 20-year old activist Aldo Zamora was gunned down outside his home by assassins angry at the campaigners’ opposition to logging in the Tlahuica indigenous community. In Honduras in 2006, two forest campaigners, Heraldo Zúñiga and Roger Ivan Murillo Cartagena, were butchered in Guarizama by attackers working under the influence of a logging cartel.

The killings followed worldwide outrage at the brutal murder of rainforest activist Dorothy Stang in Brazil’s Para state in 2005 – the incident shone a rare spotlight on the huge dangers facing campaigners and, for the first time, put the issue on the map.

In February, the European Parliament voted in legislation to help combat logging. Under the proposals, European timber companies will be required to prove they are buying and trading legally harvested timber products within the Europe. Additionally, the measures will see stronger penalties for those flouting the law. National authorities will be given the green light to investigate those abusing the law and have the power to prosecute.

But whilst such legislation goes some way to curtailing the trade in illegal timber, much of the responsibility needs to rest with timber-hungry consumers. The UK spends a staggering £712 million on illegal wood products annually – the equivalent of some £11.96 per person. This appetite for cheap wood means the UK is now the world’s third largest importer of dodgy timber, after China and Japan.

Despite the plethora of eco-labelling and certification schemes high profile press stories and constant campaigning by pressure groups, British consumers appear to be addicted to cheap timber and blind to the chain of abuses that lie behind many timber products. Each weekend thousands queue up to purchase tables, chairs, cabinets, blinds and other similar, seemingly innocent and unremarkable items. Many are made from illegally logged timber, much linked to conflict, corruption and human rights violations.

In a matter of minutes, The Ecologist located online a myriad of products made from wood of dubious origin – snooker cues constructed from Ramin, listed as vulnerable by CITES; wooden floor tiles made of merbau, linked to serious ecological injustices; luxury yacht decking constructed from Burmese teak, supposedly subject to an EU-wide embargo following the Burmese regime’s brutal suppression of democracy protests.. the list goes on.

This is unacceptable. Those responsible for manufacturing, shipping, importing and retailing items linked to controversial timber sources need to be properly investigated and brought to task. But those ultimately fuelling the trade by continuing to purchase, without question, timber products made from dubious or illegal wood need to take responsibility and exercise restraint.

In this age of ethical enlightenment – here in the UK at least – there should be little room for complacency or ignorance. If we consumers can say no to factory farmed chicken, or sweat shop produced clothes, we can say no to cheap blood timber. Both for the remaining forests and those battling to expose their destruction – such as the brave individuals highlighted here – the consequences of continuing to ignore the providence of our timber are simply too great.

A version of this report first appeared in The Ecologist magazine http://www.theecologist.org